Lincoln Hotel property in Urbana may be bought

After a year of difficulty in selling the Lincoln Hotel property, Marine Bank Springfield and the city of Urbana found an interested buyer who will support landmark designation.

Xiao Jin Yuan, owner and operator of Hampton Inn in Crescent Hill, Calif., showed interest in February. The City of Urbana is committing a total of $1,450,000 in Tax Increment Financing One and Tax Increment Financing Two funds over five years for the renovation of the property.

“At this moment, I don’t expect that I can sell the property in the next five years,” Yuan said. “I just want to run this place until my retirement.”

In addition to excitement Yuan has for keeping the historic value of the European-style architectural design, he also hopes to welcome University alumni and parents of University students looking for a place to stay when they visit campus.

“There will be a special rate for them that will be much lower than the regular rate,” Yuan said. “We would like to invite them in. Other hotels are standardized, cookie-cutter; this is different.”

Urbana City Council recommended its approval at the regular Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday.

At the meeting, Mike Smeltzer, director of networking for CITES, gave an update regarding the Big Broadband project, a fiber-optic broadband Internet project entailing a $22.5 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

So far, the environmental assessment, which is required of all federally-funded projects, is complete with no finding of significant impact.

Currently, engineering firm selection is in progress for a group to review the backbone design and to design backbone rings and fiber to the curb. Smeltzer said he aims for approval by Nov. 18 by the University Board of Trustees.

Construction will be bid in three packages: Urbana, Champaign and the University area.

Because this project is one of the few “Fiber to the Premise” projects funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, making it somewhat of a test case, it is receiving extra attention from the federal government and also from industry groups.

Looming issues include such things as the need for an organizational structure for operations, approval by all entities, finalization of the backbone design and selection of technology.

“It’s a delicate balance between not getting people excited too soon but not too late either,” Smeltzer said.

The following ordinances were also recommended for approval: an ordinance approving an amendment to the agreement with Lincoln Square respecting parking, an annual tax levy ordinance of the City of Urbana for the year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2011, an ordinance abating the tax levy for $965,000 general obligation bond and an ordinance amending the Bulk Motor Fuel Tax. Also approved was a resolution directing the Champaign County Clerk to abate the tax levy for the general corporate purpose for the year.

An update was also given on the City of Urbana’s financial condition. Some of Urbana’s revenues are starting to bottom out and slowly return, Mayor Laurel Prussing said. Also, a turnaround in the last four or five months includes the 4 percent increase in sales tax this July.

At the conclusion of the meeting, David Gehrig, Ward 2, announced he will be stepping down following the Nov. 1 meeting, which will mark his last night as an active councilmember. Gehrig said he is taking on additional work-related responsibilities that would impede his ability to give the appropriate attention to council matters.

“It’s not an easy decision, but I think in this case, it’s the right one,” Gehrig said.